The Fujiwara Clan was the most powerful family in Japan during the Heian Period. Come the year 1105, the Fujiwara Clan came to the decision of designating Hiraizumi as its main Northern Branch.
As such, the city gradually became abundant in political power and cultural development. Although Hiraizumi no longer has the same prominence it used to have, it still houses several historic and cultural structures that make it popular tourist destination.
Brief History of Hiraizumi, Japan –the Fujiwara Clan’s Northern Branch
Hiraizumi used to be part of the former Mutsu Province of Japan. During the Heian Period, it served as the residence of the Fujiwara Clan for about a hundred years.
Fujiwara no Kiyohira started his claim of the city of Oshu when he moved to his home from Esashi to Hiraizumi, particularly to Mount Kanzan. Although it was a simple act of relocation, the decision had several significant political implications, given the location of Kanzan between the Kitakami and Koromo rivers, which served as borders that clearly separated Japan from the Emishi communities.
By moving his home to Mount Kanzan, Fujiwara no Kiyohira quietly displayed his intention of ruling Oshu, independently from the Kyoto courts.
The Fujiwara Clan was basically responsible for building up the reputation of Hiraizumi during the Heian Period. Unfortunately, the city also fell back into its relatively obscure image when the Fujiwara Clan lost its political power.
It was only in 1889 when the public started recognizing Hiraizumi again for its significance to Japan’s history and culture after it was given a municipality status by the post-Meiji Restoration system.
Over sixty years later, it then received a town status and soon combined with the adjacent Nagashima Village in 1955. During 1956 and 1964, Hiraizumi lost some of its parts to Ichinoseki.
Tourist Attractions in Hiraizumi, Japan – World Heritage Sites, Temples, Geibikei Gorge, Etc.
Hiraizumi houses some of the most important historic and cultural properties of the Tohoku Region. In fact, six of its tourist attractions have been included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.
Some of the top attractions scattered throughout the city which tourists should make a point to visit include:
Chusonji Temple serves as the main attraction of Hiraizumi. It dates back to the year 850 and belongs to the Tendai Sect of Japanese Buddhism. Before the city of Hiraizumi suffered significant damages from various wars and the fall of the Fujiwara Clan, the temple grounds used to house a large network of Buddhist structures and artifacts.
At present, only a couple of buildings remain standing – the Konjikido Hall and the Kyozo Hall. The Konjikido Hall is often associated with the Kinkakuji, or the Golden Pavilion, of Kyoto, given its equally stunning architecture and gold-covered exterior.
This hall was built during the year 1124 and can be found within another building that was constructed mainly to protect the Konjikido Hall. Visitors may check out the hall for a corresponding admission fee but taking photographs is strictly prohibited.
On the other hand, the Kyozo Hall carries a relatively modest ambiance. It used to serve as a Buddhist scripture (sutra) repository during the reign of the Fujiwara Clan and predates the Konjikido Hall by more than fifteen years.
Other notable points of interest within the temple grounds include the main hall (Hondo), the Treasure Hall, a stunning Noh theater stage, and a network of walking paths that go through the temple's forest.
Hours: 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM, daily (March – November 3); 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM, daily (November 4 – February)
Admission Fee: No admission fee to enter the temple grounds; 800 yen per person (For access to the Konjikido Hall and the Treasure Hall)
Address: 202 Koromonoseki, Hiraizumi, Hiraizumi-cho, Nishiiwai-gun, Iwate Prefecture, Japan 029-4102
Geibikei Gorge can be found beyond the outskirts of Hiraizumi. Tourists are advised to take a calming flat-bottomed boat ride conducted by local boatmen to fully enjoy the gorge. The tours usually take about ninety minutes and offer visitors with breathtaking natural sceneries.
The tour routes typically lead a kilometer into the Geibikei Gorge, all the way to the back end. Before the boat makes its return to the starting point, passengers are allowed to get off and explore the area for about twenty minutes.
One of the best times to visit the Geibikei Gorge is during the fall season, particularly during the months of October and November.
Hours: 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM, daily (April – August); 8:30 AM – 4:00 PM, daily (September – early-November); 8:30 AM – 3:30 PM, daily (mid-November); 9:30 AM – 3:00 PM, daily (late-November – mid-March); 9:30 AM – 3:30 PM, daily (late-March)
Admission Fee: 1,600 yen per person
Address: Higashiyamacho, Ichinoseki, Iwate Prefecture, Japan
Motsuji Temple used to be one of the most important temples of the Tendai Sect of Japanese Buddhism.
As with the other tourist attractions of Hiraizumi, it only has a few of its original structures intact. Although a Buddhist Temple, the main reason why tourists visit the area is to see its garden, one of Japan’s handful of pure land gardens that remain standing.
During the Heian Period, pure land gardens were regarded as a highly significant Japanese garden style, given its aim to recreate various concepts discussed in Tendai Buddhism.
Similar to other pure land gardens, Motsuji Temple features a large pond in the center. The best part to enjoy this pond is taking a walk along the circular path which goes around the circumference of the pond.
While exploring other parts of the temple grounds, visitors can also come across several signposts that indicate the former buildings that stood on the property. Although these structures no longer exist, their respective foundations can be seen, offering a rough preview of what the Motsuji Temple used to look like.
Hours: 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM, daily (April 5 – November 4); 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM, daily (November 5 – April 4)
Admission Fee: 500 yen per person
Address: 58 Hiraizumi Osawa, Hiraizumi-cho, Nishiiwai-gun, Iwate Prefecture, Japan 029-4102
Takkoku no Iwaya
Takkoku no Iwaya is a unique temple that was constructed as a sort of extension of a face of a cliff. It was built during the ninth century as tribute to the god of warriors. During the feudal era of Japan, this temple played an important role for the Japanese and Emishi communities.
Hours: 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM, daily (April – October); 8:00 AM – 4:30 PM (November – March)
Admission Fee: 300 yen per person
Address: 16 Hiraizumi Kitazawa, Hiraizumi-cho, Nishiiwai-gun, Iwate Prefecture, Japan 029-4102
Hotels and Other Accommodation Options
Although a lot of tourists choose to only take a day trip to Hiraizumi, spending the night is highly recommended for a less hectic itinerary and for a more fulfilling stay in the historic city.
Hiraizumi only houses a handful of accommodation options but, fortunately, its neighboring areas offers plenty of other lodging types, i.e. hotel or inn, and are all still within a 10-kilometer radius from the city. Some of the best ones include:
Minpaku Hiraizumi is a charming bed and breakfast located right in Hiraizumi, Japan. Its air-conditioned rooms feature a shared bathroom and are equipped with flat-screen TVs. Guests may enjoy access to free WiFi connection, a hot tub, and an Asian breakfast every morning, all throughout their stay.
According to reviews, Minpaku Hiraizumi is particularly popular with couples, earning an average rating of 9.5 out of 10. The majority of these reviews also commend the guesthouse for its fantastic coffee.
Rating: 9.7 out of 10
Access: 5-minute walk away from the Motsuji Temple; 1.8 kilometers away from the Chusonji Temple
Address: 117-17 Hiraizumi Shirayama, Hiraizumi, Iwate Prefecture, Japan 029-4101
Iris Yu is a traditional Japanese inn (ryokan) that offers its guests with free parking, free WiFi connection, and air-conditioned rooms.
The property also houses a shared bathroom, designated smoking area, and banquet area, for the convenience of guests. Other services provided by Iris Yu include laundry, photocopy/fax, and several vending machines.
Rating: 8.3 out of 10
Access: 5-minute walk away from the Motsuji Temple; 1.7 kilometers away from the Chusonji Temple
Address: 116-1 Shirayama, Hiraizumi, Iwate Prefecture, Japan 029-4102
San Hotel Koromogawaso
San Hotel Koromogawaso is located in Oshu, about 3.6 kilometers away from Hiraizumi. It houses its own bar and restaurant, both of which offer excellent continental food and drinks.
All of the rooms at the hotel are equipped with private bathrooms, flat-screen TVs, and kettles, while some, more expensive, rooms come complete with their own seating areas. Guests are also given free access to the property’s WiFi connection, parking spaces, swimming pool, and public bath.
Rating: 7.4 out of 10
Access: 2 kilometers away from the Chusonji Temple; 3.5 kilometers away from the Motsuji Temple
Address: 60-2 Hinata, Oshu, Iwate Prefecture, Japan 029-4421
Chisun Inn Iwate Ichinoseki IC
Chisun Inn Iwate Ichinoseki IC is located 5.3 kilometers away from Hiraizumi. It is conveniently situated near the Ichinoseki Interchange of the Tohoku Expressway and JR Ichinoseki Train Station.
Some of its most popular facilities and services include free parking, free WiFi connection, air-conditioning, heating, non-smoking rooms, meeting/banquet facilities, laundry, photocopy/fax, buffet breakfast, and vending machines.
Rating: 7.8 out of 10
Access: 3.1 kilometers away from the Ichinoseki Station; 5.3 kilometers away from the Motsuji Temple; 6.9 kilometers away from the Chusonji Temple
Address: 188-2 Akoogi-aza Tsukimachi, Ichinoseki, Iwate Prefecture, Japan 021-0041
Hotel Route-Inn Ichinoseki Inter
Hotel Route-Inn Ichinoseki Inter is located 5.4 kilometers away from Hiraizumi. From the JR Ichinoseki Station, the hotel can be reached in about ten minutes via taxi.
Its modern, carpeted rooms all feature air-conditioning, heating, LCD TVs, refrigerators, electric kettles, and private bathrooms. The property also houses several public baths, coin launderettes, and massage chairs that may be used by guests for corresponding additional fees.
One of the most popular things offered by Hotel Route-Inn Ichinoseki Inter is its free coffee service at the lobby from 3:00 PM to 10:00 PM. The lobby also offers laptop rentals, for the convenience of guests.
Rating: 7.8 out of 10
Access: 3.1 kilometers away from the Ichinoseki Station; 5.4 kilometers away from the Motsuji Temple; 7 kilometers away from the Chusonji temple
Address: 33-1 Akogi Azatsurumaki, Ichinoseki, Iwate Prefecture, Japan 021-0041
Hotel Sunroute Ichinoseki
Hotel Sunroute Ichinoseki is conveniently located near the JR Ichinoseki Station, but is relatively far from Hiraizumi, about 6.9 kilometers away. Nonetheless, it is still among the best options for those who want to spend a night or two near the former Northern Branch of the Fujiwara Clan.
Each room of the hotel is equipped with a modern air-conditioning & heating system, private bathroom, flat-screen TV, refrigerator, and seating area. Hotel Sunroute Ichinoseki makes sure that all its guests are well taken care of by providing free Yukata robes and slippers to use throughout their stay.
Guests are also given access to free WiFi connection, private parking, and an on-site restaurant that offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner courses.
Rating: 7.7 out of 10
Access: Short walk away from the JR Ichinoseki Station; 17-minute car ride away from the Genbikei Valley; 7.1 kilometers away from the Motsuji Temple; 8.8 kilometers away from the Chusonji Temple
Address: 2-37 Kamiotsukikouji, Ichinoseki, Iwate Prefecture, Japan 021-0882
Atto Business Hotel Ichinoseki
Atto Business Hotel Ichinoseki is located 7.1 kilometers away from Hiraizumi. It is one of the best economy hotels of Ichinoseki and houses several Western-style rooms that are fitted with the basic tourist necessities.
Guests are provided with free WiFi connection, free parking, and a light complimentary breakfast meal all throughout their stay. Other services offered by the hotel include laundry, photocopy/fax, luggage storage space rental, and trouser press.
Rating: 7.4 out of 10
Access: 15-minute walk away from the JR Ichinoseki Station; 20-minute car ride away from the JR Hiraizumi Station; 7.3 kilometers away from the Motsuji Temple; 9 kilometers away from the Chusonji Temple
Address: 73-1 Sannoseki Sakuramachi, Ichinoseki, Iwate Prefecture, Japan 021-0881
Total War: Shogun 2 – A Video Game that Features Hiraizumi and the Fujiwara Clan
The strategy video game known as Total War: Shogun 2 is part of Sega’s Total War series. It takes place in feudal Japan, particularly after the end of the Onin War. Various warlords (daimyo) fight one another for complete power over the country. The role of the player is to serve as daimyo and lead his chosen clan towards victory.
A total of 8 clans are available in the standard edition of the video game but downloadable content are available for those who want to have access to six other legendary clans including those of the Minamoto, Fujiwara, and Taira families.